By Aziah Siid | Word In Black

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk/Pexels

(WIB) – Whether through words in her Brown Baby 321 series or from behind the desk at her nearby disabilities services chapter, Maryland resident Meeka Cadwell wears many hats when it comes to advocating for people with disabilities. While this may be true, the hat she wears as a mother advocating for her son may trump them all. 

Cadwell, 46, has created an entire book series centered around her 9-year-old, Anian Cadwell, who was born with Down Syndrome. Through stories, families are given both the representation in media and tools they can use to navigate new things and experiences with their loved ones. 

“He’s still a 9-year-old little boy, so that’s really what I want people to understand,” Cadwell says.  “What we have to go through to get educated and figure these things out, it’s not to ‘fight,’ it’s just to arm ourselves with information to get the best possible outcome for our kids.”

As part of being a resource to other families, she continues to seek out information to learn more as well. The Arc@Schools, a nationwide network of chapters that provide resources for special education, developed an initiative to offer parents like Cadwell assistance, training, and resources — and it could be a model for special education advocacy nationally.

The school is part of The Arc, “the largest national community-based organization advocating for and with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and serving them and their families,” according to its website. There are about 600 state and local Arc chapters across the country, and the school’s resources are accessible online or directly through your local chapter.

We just want the best for our kids,”MEEKA CADWELL, MARYLAND RESDIENT

The school’s Advocacy Curriculum includes eight modules on topics like the anatomy of an individualized education plan, special education services, and more. With Black children being 17% of Black students identified as having intellectual or developmental disabilities, it’s a resource that could prove valuable to plenty of Black families.

Although this program is filled with the basics that members of this community need to know, a $99 fee for the curriculum might deter families from accessing the content. But, through a partnership with the Lids Foundation, this program is now offered free to Maryland families. 

Cadwell happens to be one of the folks who accessed the program through the partnership.

“As our children are matriculating through school, and we’re trying to figure out all the things, there’s always a necessary need for more information,” Cadwell says. “This is something I wanted to take up because I’m always in a constant fight or battle just so my child could have the same rights as any other child in their school, and that sometimes comes with a lack of information.”

When we’re at the table when we’re talking to teachers, you know I just want someone to be a human to a human, and that’s sometimes not always happening,”MEEKA CADWELL, MARYLAND RESIDENT

Robyn Linscott, The Arc’s national director of education and family policy, says when you make information like this available, it helps move the needle in support of the families.

“The more that parents, and families, and caregivers, and students themselves know their rights and know what is really there to protect them, really that makes our job on the policy end easier,” Linscott says. “When parents, and students especially, are bringing to light disparities and things they see happening, that really helps us elevate the points we’ve been talking about.” 

In addition, the pandemic led the public to see these disparities among students, particularly Black students with disabilities, more clearly than before. Therefore, changes had to be made.  

“There are so many questions, and there’s not always honest, transparent communication coming from the other side. When we’re at the table when we’re talking to teachers, you know I just want someone to be a human to a human, and that’s sometimes not always happening,” Cadwell says. 

In the end, parents like Cadwell simply want to be heard.

“We just want the best for our kids,” she says. “This is a great tool to arm yourselves and understand and keep learning about it all.”